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‘The Policeman’s Lineage’ (review)

Kyu-maan Lee’s The Policeman’s Lineage begs us to return to a simpler era. As its title suggests, this is a cop story, recalling with gusto the thousands before it; and in line with those, Lineage concerns itself with the endearingly unsophisticated questions of police methodology (how far is too far?), and follows that familiar path to some fun shootouts and middling character turns.

Parasite’s Choi Woo-sik stars as Choi Min Jae, a young cop recruited by Internal Affairs after testifying against his violent partner in court.

His assignment, as detailed in some convoluted exposition that at least feels in keeping with the genre, is to work as a mole in the department of one Park Gang Yoon (Cho Jin-woong), a detective suspected of using dirty money to fund his investigations. We learn additionally that Park may be playing two crime bosses against each other for personal gain, and that an earlier investigation of him led to the IA agent’s death.

As is typical of the Korean epic, we soon discover that Choi’s father was a cop, having died in the line of duty, and that the same Park under investigation was his one-time subordinate.

While Lineage initially leans Training Day, Park and Choi quickly develop a more winsome parental rapport as Choi looks to Park to fill the role of his missing father, and fishing trips ensue.

The bulk of the film plays out as an extended is-he-bad-or-isn’t-he, as Park and Choi build a case against a crime bosses in question, and Choi struggles internally with his allegiances. While this push and pull of conflicting objectives should in theory amplify the tension, the two investigations often feel unrelated, and make for a generally confused tone. Additional revelations regarding Choi’s father only serve to further complicate things, though some interesting bits of Korean history make their way into the telling.

Aside from a bizarre subplot involving a fictional psychotropic drug that only activates when mixed with coffee (?), Lineage rarely strays from the beaten path. An abundance of small twists and gotchas result in a jumbled plot, though it’s hard to begrudge its adherence to tropes. It is unfortunately also hard to feel too invested in the outcome, but that’s not to say there’s no fun to be had.

Despite the film’s numerous lulls the camera stays tastefully kinetic, and a varied score takes some interesting turns. The performances too are mostly engaging, with Cho’s in particular mining the archetype for some satisfying small moments. Still, there is little here that will surprise, and Lineage’s climactic shootouts, while enjoyable, will leave you pining for the days of blanks and squibs. If only the film’s regressive inclinations had extended to the technical.

If you want an undercover movie, go watch Infernal Affairs. If you want a dirty cop movie, go watch either Bad Lieutenant. But if you want some 90s cheese injected into the framework of Korean film, The Policeman’s Lineage will suffice.

*  *  *  *  *
Produced by Lee Han-seung
Written by Bae Young-ik
Based on Blood of the Policeman by Joh Sasaki
Directed by Lee Kyoo-man
Starring Cho Jin-woong, Choi Woo-shik,
Park Hee-soon, Kwon Yul, Park Myung-hoon



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